How I Remember a Basketball Star
On the brink of a historic Game Seven in the 2016 NBA Finals, Shaun Livingston has become a basketball star. The 6’ 7” guard for the Golden State Warriors has wowed spectators of these Finals games. In Game One, he scored a career-high postseason 20 points. In Game Five, he soared over Cavaliers defender Richard Jefferson with a highlight-reel one-handed dunk (see below). His footwork on the court during this series evokes the beauty of choreography. Shaun has epitomized the strength of the Warriors bench in their record-breaking 2015-16 season. I am in awe as I watch him on TV.
But the Shaun Livingston I remember best is the polite young boy who lived in Peoria, Illinois. I remember him as a regular worshiper at the church I pastored. I remember him as a student in the Lutheran school where I led chapel services and taught confirmation. I remember him as a young follower of Jesus.
In the 1990s, I was a pastor at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Peoria. Since Trinity is a downtown congregation, most of the worshipers commute to the campus by car. But one young man regularly walked to church. He often came to worship by himself, on his own initiative. He was Shaun Livingston. I remember him regularly waiting in the narthex for a classmate or friend to arrive so that he would have someone to sit with. I was impressed with his dedication to hear God’s Word and worship the Lord by walking to church alone on Sunday morning.
So, most of all, I am in awe of what God can do through his Word and through his saints to impact a life like Shaun’s.
Shaun first came to Trinity because of a Lutheran school. His father enrolled Shaun at Concordia Lutheran School in Peoria so that he would receive a first-rate education. The kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Ruth Ruppert, welcomed Shaun and made him feel valued. Ruth welcomed all of her students so warmly because she recognized them as precious in the sight of God. She loved them with the love of God. She shared with Shaun and his classmates the story of the Savior. Shaun believed, and he was baptized. Mrs. Ruppert and her husband Tom were Shaun’s sponsors at his baptism. During his years at Concordia School they continued to be faithful godparents to him. Tom was the upper-grade basketball coach at the school, and so he directed Shaun in his rapidly developing basketball skills. But even more so, Tom modeled Christian discipleship and nurtured Shaun in faith. To this day, Tom and Ruth Ruppert are like a second family to Shaun.
The other teachers at Concordia School also impacted Shaun tremendously for the positive. They invested their lives in him. Nevertheless, during Shaun’s fourth-grade year he was moved to another charter school in Peoria with the intention that his basketball skills would be better honed there. But at the beginning of sixth grade he returned to Concordia because it became clear that this school was the best context for something more important than basketball—Christian character and faith.
In high school, Shaun did not always demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Like you and me, the Old Adam surfaced on occasion. But he continued to trust God’s forgiving grace, as he does to this day, and as he was formed to do in those early years at Concordia Lutheran School and Trinity Lutheran Church.
In 2007, while playing for the L.A. Clippers, Shaun experienced a horrific knee injury. He tore three of the four ligaments in his knee. At one point he was told by the medical personnel that his leg might need to be amputated. I still wince when I recall the video clip showing the injury. It took well over a year for Shaun’s injury to heal and rehabilitate before he could return to the basketball court. His story of recovery is one of fortitude and perseverance. But it is also one of faith in God during trial.
Shaun continues to speak of the important formative influence that his Lutheran Christian upbringing had on him. His testimony is a tribute especially to the influence of Lutheran elementary education. This year, Shaun announced that he is contributing $1 million to a building expansion project at Concordia Lutheran School in Peoria. He will be present there later this summer to speak at a celebration event. He will be coming home to a place where he learned about the God who loves him and to a people who continue to share God’s love to this day.
UPDATE: The Peoria Journal Star recently ran an article on Shaun Livingston’s relationship with Concordia Lutheran School and his generous gift.